Invasive algae is a big problem in Hawaii, but two high school students from St. Andrew’s Priory say they’ve found an answer that will help both the environment and the economy.
“Macroalgae is basically multi-celled and extremely large algae species that are completely coating Hawaii’s beaches today,” explained student Ariana Kim.
Their mentor, University of Hawaii bioengineering professor Samir Khanal, says the algae is bad because it “prevents the light penetration and affects the coral and water quality.”
Kim and her lab partner, Sreelakshimi Kutty, both juniors at St. Andrew’s Priory, wanted to take care of the ocean. Their science project, which began in May 2014, led them to ferment the algae.
“Farmers in Hawaii today, especially Kaneohe, use algae as fertilizer but the problem is, when it rains, the algae floats back down to bays and ocean and causes further infestation,” Kim said.
Fermentation kills it so it won’t reproduce.
“Fermenting the algae not only improves the growth of yield and time growth of crops, but also prevents further infestation as the algae can not grow once fermented,” Kim said. “Another practical application is creating methane, which is gas, from the fermented algae. This can then be used to create self-sustaining greenhouses, and we created a model. This can be used in Hawaii, and developing coastal countries that have access to algae.”
Also, the algae can make carbon nanotubes. “Nanotubes are often used for water filtration, prosthetic limbs, aircraft,” explained Kutty.
The main reason they’re so great is they’re lightweight, but stronger than steel. “That algae can be used for bio fertilizer, bio fuel, even high-value products like cosmetics and so forth,” Khanal said.
Khanal and the girls say this will save the state millions of dollars in algae cleanup and would create a whole new industry.
The girls took third place at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh this month.